Image: Silence and Hope


Ross Ahlfeld writes this week's blog and reflects on how he has been inspired by his son to focus on the true meaning of Christmas.

Every Christmas, I dig out this old newspaper front page from Christmas Eve, 2003. The headline proclaims ‘Last mad dash to the shops’ while the photograph presents a dizzying scene of consumers in a blur, frantically trying to purchase last minute gifts. 

It really could be a hellish vision of almost everything wrong with the dehumanising materialism of Christmas, with all its vacuous misery of spending money we don’t have, on stuff we don’t need. 

Fortunately, at the centre of this chaotic backdrop stands a beautiful little two-year-old boy, transfixed by his balloon, completely oblivious to the bedlam taking place all around him.  This powerful image has always helped me to reflect on how we might approach the celebration of Christmas.

Specifically, the child’s fascination with only his balloon causes me to contemplate Hebrews 12:2 – “Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end.” The picture also encourages us to meditate on the biblical commendation to “become like little children, otherwise, we will never enter the kingdom of heaven”.

Of course, we are all very different. Some take great pleasure in buying gifts for loved ones amid all the hustle and bustle of Christmas. Others feel totally overwhelmed by the cacophony of sounds, the vast crowds and bright lights - they are left feeling utterly detached from it all, just as the toddler pictured remains disconnected from all the frenetic movement going on about him. Indeed, many of us feel that our senses are being flooded at this time of year and we end up quite distressed by the entire retail experience. 

Yet this same anxiety and sensory overload is the world which some (but not all) Autistic children and adults encounter every single day, not just at Christmas time.

Undoubtedly, we have a great deal to learn from our friends and family members on the autism spectrum, especially within the Church. Not for nothing is it said that the Church is one of the primary places where neurodiversity should be appreciated since “Christians with Aspergers often offer Church the gift of truth-telling”.

Perhaps the alternative to all the noise of secular Christmas is still to be found in the holy silence and stillness of the Church’s preparations for Christmas during Advent.  

 I should say that the little boy is my oldest son, soon to be 18 years old. He’s not just my son but also my friend, I’ve learned a great deal about life from this little boy with the balloon. Like all fathers and sons, we need each other. We are pilgrims on the road together, navigating our way through this often overwhelming and sometimes cruel world. At times we stumble and worry about of what lies further along the road - but it is always hope that drives us forward.

The peace activist Jim Forest describes living in hope as our Christian duty and responsibility. He quotes Martin Luther: “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”

In truth, Christmas is a time of both silence and hope; the silence of waiting and the hope in God coming to dwell among us, illuminating the world with his love and the promise of life.

Image: Eco friendly Christmas


Sr Margaret Rose Bradley writes our latest blog and reflects on making Christmas environmentally friendly. 

In Britain each year at Christmas we use enough wrapping paper to reach the moon – and most of it can’t be recycled. Yet there are eco-friendly ways to wrap gifts that don’t cost the earth (in any sense).

Last year I bought some eco-friendly gift bags from Amnesty International. Made of newspaper, they were produced by a group in India. The work provided the group with an income, which in turn gave them a way to support their families.

Wrapping gifts in newspaper or brown paper is environmentally friendly and we could make it a fashion statement.

Then there’s the food waste. I was shocked to learn that In Britain alone, 4,000 Christmas dinners are thrown away because too many people buy much more than they need. An organisation called Olio encourages people to share leftover food by advertising the extra food on line. At Christmas they help people to share leftover food. See their website for details.

Christmas is an ideal time to think more carefully about our own recycling and in this way care for the earth as Pope Francis encourages us to do. And we really don’t need the latest fridge or washing machine.

I’m a board member of the charity Glasgow Play-Resource Association (GPA). Originally known as Glasgow Playschemes Association the charity began by people banding together to buy resources. My advice to anyone setting up a similar group is to buy in bulk – it’s often cheaper. And the fun that children get from making their own wee gifts for the family far outweighs expensive bought presents. Used Christmas cards can provide materials for this – so don’t throw them out, save for next year.

GPA now accepts loads of things to recycle – from milk bottle tops to buttons, beads, needles, thread and wool. Empty sweetie tins? Organisations like GPA can use them for arts and crafts with children, young people and older people in nursing homes. Ask around your local area before you consign these sorts of items to the bin. Even your unused stationery could be used by playgroups and craft groups.

All charities have a funding problem. They will be staffed by volunteers so may not get back to you immediately. Be patient and don’t give in to throwing out.
Pope Francis urges us to care for our earthly home. In his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si, he reminded us that St Francis ‘helps us to see that an integral ecology calls for openness to categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it is to be human’. Being imaginative with what is no longer of use to us personally can help change the world.

 Sir David Attenborough told the world leaders that we are at a critical stage of preserving our world. We can all make the three ‘Rs’ our motto in 2019 to preserve our earth for future generations - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
Sr Margaret Rose Bradley SND Chairperson, Board of Directors, Glasgow Play-Resource Association. Unit 1, 135 Moffat Street, G5 0ND

Image: Peace be with you


Marian Pallister, vice chair of Justice and Peace Scotland, reflects on working to create a Pax Christi Scotland

They are laughing at me (in the nicest possible way) here at the Justice and Peace office in Glasgow because during the past year of helping to set up Pax Christi Scotland, I have been referring to the Commission as ‘the mother ship’.
I make no apologies, because while Pax Christi International is a rather older Catholic organisation, founded in 1945 as a reconciliation movement, Pax Christi Scotland is just finding its feet. We need the Justice and Peace Commission’s approval and guidance to achieve status as one of the 120 member organisations of Pax Christi International. Approaching 40, and with the wisdom and experience that goes with those four decades, Justice and Peace Scotland fits the ‘mother ship’ description perfectly.
There are Pax Christi movements in more than 50 countries, and within the next year, Pax Christi Scotland hopes to cut loose and become a member of that global family working with a particularly Scottish ethos alongside our sibling organisations.
Like those older siblings, we will be working for peace, respect for human rights, and justice and reconciliation. And yes, as the members of the Scottish Bishops’ Conference commented when Justice and Peace Scotland chair Honor Hania laid our case before them a few weeks ago, that does sound very similar to the work of the Commission.
Similar – but different.
And that is why for some years, supporters of the peace movement in Scotland have felt that we should be one of those Pax Christi member countries. Pat Gaffney, general secretary of Pax Christi in the UK – a body with its main support in England and Wales – has encouraged us to become Pax Christi Scotland.
As a member of the steering group set up in February 2018 after Pat Gaffney called a meeting to move things forward, I’ve found it challenging but rewarding to discover so much support for the model we hope to develop. Our little team – Grace Buckley and I from Justice and Peace Scotland, Dr Rosalyn Mauchline from the diocese of St Andrew’s and Edinburgh, and Hugh Foy, director of programmes and partnerships for the Xaverian Missionaries, UK Province – has been working on a route map to becoming a fully fledged Pax Christi member organisation.
As you know, Pax Christi International’s core principles echo Pope Francis’ insistence that it is not only immoral to use weapons of mass destruction but also to own them and trade in them. It is a given that Pax Christi Scotland will play a supporting role in that campaign, but we intend to concentrate on the more general nonviolence aspects of Pope Francis’ 2016 Day of Peace address, which stressed that peace starts in the family, the school and the parish. Pax Christi Scotland’s mission is to develop programmes enabling nonviolence to become the cornerstone of Scottish family and parish life.
Our children shouldn’t grow up thinking that the angry language and hostile environment we experience today is the norm. Pax Christi Scotland’s mission is to help create a kinder country, while our mother ship campaigns for the justice that leads to peace.

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